Monday, July 28, 2014

Deal reached on VA bill; includes relief for rural veterans who are far from a facility

House and Senate negotiators have reached a tentative agreement to deal with the long-term needs of the struggling Department of Veterans Affairs and are expected to unveil their proposal this afternoon, Ed O'Keefe reports for The Washington Post. Aides said negotiators "have 'made significant progress' on legislation to overhaul the VA and provide funding to hire more doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals."

There has been concern among veterans, especially those in rural areas, that they have had to travel long distances to receive care, or often wait months for an appointment, if they get one at all.

"According to a draft summary of the measure provided by House aides, Congress would give eligible military veterans a 'Veterans Choice Card' and allow them to seek health care outside the VA medical system from Medicare-eligible providers, other federally qualified health centers or facilities operated by the Defense Department or federal Indian Health Service centers," O'Keefe writes. "Veterans eligible to seek care outside the system would need to be enrolled by Aug. 1, or enroll for VA care within five years of ending their military service in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the draft agreement. A veteran could leave the VA system if they’re unable to receive an appointment within 14 days — the current VA wait-time goal, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility."

In response to complaints of long wait times to get an appointment, "new legislation would not allow scheduling and wait-time metrics to be used as factors in determining a worker’s performance," O'Keefe writes. "Instead, most performance reviews would focus on the quality of care received by veterans, according to the draft summary."

The compromise would authorize $5 billion for more employees, "require VA to enter into 27 leases for new major medical facilities; expand a scholarship program for the surviving spouses of service members who died during conflicts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and allow VA to provide counseling care and other services to veterans who suffered sexual trauma while in the ranks. Additionally, VA would be required to conduct regular audits on the accuracy of care and staffing levels at each major medical facility," O'Keefe writes.

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